Years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the planet, my dad and his siblings worked on the family farm. During the summer several of their cousins would come down from Wyoming to help out. Steve was one of the cousins, and he and my dad were inseparable.
Eventually both Steve and my Dad married (NOT each other) and had children. Every once in a great while, Steve and his family would come to my Grandpa’s house and occasionally Dad could convince Steve to go moving pipe again.
Steve had a son about my age named Chaise. This is us, about age three. I’m the cuter one. (If that’s not obvious enough, the one with Garfield.)
My mother had an annoying tendency to chop off “uninteresting” parts of the picture. Apologies.
When I was seven Steve and the family came up to visit one weekend during the summer. There was pipe to move (yes, this is another moving pipe story) and Steve, Chaise, and Steve’s younger daughter Ricky decided to come.
I’m not intentionally knocking on Chaise here; he’s a really great guy, and a good friend. We’ve had a lot of adventures together, and I think the world of him. But on this particular day Chaise was being a dork.
Again, every seven year old can be a complete monster, but truthfully I was not thrilled with the idea of him coming with this time. He was being really mean, and…well… there was the canal to consider.
The canal ran by one of the fields known as the Haws Ground. A culvert would divert some of the water to the pump, which would then pressurize the hydrants than ran along the field. The canal was full of brown, ugly water. At least one of my sisters got an ear infection from playing in it.
It was pretty common to see someone fall in the canal when I was a kid; a lot of times they may or may not have been pushed. My grandpa fell in once, and to hear my aunts and uncles tell it, it was the single greatest day of their lives.
But I digress. Several generations ago Chaise’s side of the family sucked every available “tall gene” out of the pool, so he was quite a bit bigger than me even then. I knew, I just knew, he was going to push me in, and there was precious little I could do about it.
In the end, however, it didn’t matter. Chaise fell victim to his own hubris. I hope it doesn’t ruin our friendship to say that he TOTALLY deserved what happened to him.
We were still too small to actually help, so my uncles, Dad, and Steve moved the pipe while the kids wandered through the field played with the dogs…or, in my case, getting pushed in the canal the moment the adults’ backs were turned.
Chaise was clearly out for blood, because he actually followed me into the canal.
I screamed for help as he dunked me over and over. I hit, smacked, kicked, and may have even been desperate enough to bite him. At one point held me under long enough that I literally thought I was going to die. I’m pretty sure my lips had turned blue. I was saved when the adults walked by.
They had finished moving pipe, and were ready to go. By now I was so exhausted I couldn’t even climb up the steep embankment.
Chaise, though, clambered right up and headed for the log draped across the canal that served as a redneck bridge. His sister, Ricky, was in front of him. Chaise’s bloodlust hadn’t been satiated by nearly killing me, so he turned on his sister. I think Steve saw the reddish gleam in Chaise’s eyes, though.
Never before has such a prophetic statement been uttered.
Chaise ignored him. With a pitiful wail of terror, Ricky was flung out over the canal. She flapped her arms in a desperate attempt to remain airborne, and flopped into the canal not two feet from me.
Chaise let out a triumphant shout that quickly turned to a squeal of fright. Steve was already close to losing it with Chaise because of everything that had happened earlier in the day, so no one but Chaise was surprised when Steve launched himself over the water towards his only son. Chaise at that point abandoned the pretense of innocence and dove into the canal next to Ricky.
It was too late. Steve landed on top of Chaise, and after this most of what happened is conjecture; the water was too murky. I did see this:
so I would assume Steve had his hands around his son’s throat. The water churned madly, as though a giant catfish was thrashing around in agony, but Chaise never came up. Only his hair could be seen, even then only showing up momentarily before vanishing from sight.
Dad and my uncles started chuckling. I, meanwhile, was leading a cheer with Ricky.
Sixty seconds or so later, Chaise’s head popped above the surface of the water. Perhaps if Chaise were older, wiser, more mature, or at least thinking clearly, he would have been more careful of what he chose to say as he gulped down helpings of oxygen.
And with a blubbering wail, Chaise disappeared under the water again. A hand briefly broke the surface, twitching, but then it too vanished beneath the churning water. In a sense, so had Steve. A kindly, gentle man had turned into a steroidal homicidal maniac. Veins were bulging out on his forehead, his teeth were clenched so hard I think some of them may have cracked, and his entire face had gone redder than a cooked lobster.
The thrashing began to subside, and Dad and my uncles stopped laughing. They looked at each other, concerned.
Ricky and I, however, were free of such ethical dilemmas.
Just at the point Dad was getting ready to jump in the canal and save himself from testifying in a murder trial against his cousin, Steve decided Chaise had learned his lesson and let him float to the surface.
Chaise was understandably subdued the rest of the afternoon. “The moral arc of the universe,” someone once said, “is long, but it bends towards justice.” In both Ricky’s and my case, it bent rather quickly.
And as seems to happen a lot with my relatives, Chaise never went moving pipe again. In fact, if I were to ask him, he might start crying. Not that I blame him. I cry too whenever I think about it-just very different types of tears.